Archive for the ‘Peak Oil’ Category


So, I was talking to the lady who owns the used bookstore “next door” on Wednesday.  Amazingly intelligent, well-read woman, she is. We talked about a lot of subjects.

The economy, and how the Alberta Premier is … well, trying to prevent a panic by … ignoring the fact that the economy is in shambles. And even if the Alberta economy was perfectly okay (it’s not, the oilsands are not economically sound as long as oil is less than $75/barrel, or something stupid like that) it couldn’t support all of Canada indefinitely. And how Canada has been rather  sheltered from the economic falling-apartness that is occurring everywhere else, but now we’re starting to feel it. (On a side note, I asked the lady at London Drugs if they were hiring and she said no, with the funniest look on her face, and then continued her thought with a “wow, it’s been years since I’ve said that… ” and a sad shake of her head.)

We touched on how the budget is going to infrastructure (okay), unemployment insurance and similar help (… why? If the Premier is so sure our economy is still booming, would unemployment help be so important?), and home renovations/purchasing a new home.

Now, if people were smart, wise, thoughtful or had an ounce of common sense, they’d use that home renovations money/bonus to refurbish the house to use less energy. Re-insulate, put in some beneficial landscaping (trees! block the hot sun or the cold wind depending on the season), that sort of thing. We came to a bitter, resigned conclusion that many of the people who qualify will spend the money on a hot tub, or something equally frivolous.

We wander off onto the cruise she’d just been on and how horrible the waste in the dinning room was. We talked about how people in Haiti are eating DIRT while people in the dinning room are ordering 4-5 dishes, a night, to eat a bite or two of each. Wow, that seems fair. Not only can these individuals afford to take a week or two off of work, but they”re throwing out enough food to feed 4 people (we’ll be generous and assume they ate enough to feed yourself, rather than simply sampling), each night. Oh well, go out with a bang, I suppose. Since cruises may become a thing of the past as first people can’t afford either the time off (in terms of lost wages, and risking losing the job) nor have the money to pay for the cruise itself. And then the cruises will have issues with fuel shortages too. Unless they start rowing around the Caribbean or to Alaska. That’d be something.

She likes the quote about living simply so others may simply live. How the developed countries have taken so much and, essentially put it on credit (and no, I’m not talking about money), that generation upon generation will be paying for it. How the USA has taken so many resources and lived so sustainably that the next hundred generations will be trying to make amends. That’s like passing on your credit card debt to all of your great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandkids, and each generation having to pass it on the entire next generation after having lived their whole life in poverty paying. For what? Some new clothes, nights out, furniture that matches, bought new, every time the style changes? Can you imagine making your grandkids pay for your latest wardrobe? Well, guess what, they will be. Chew on that for a while the next time you can’t possibly wear those jeans another 6 months.

I’m sure there was more, but this was all food for thought and what stood out to me. Made me think, anyway.


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Okay, so by this time everyone and their dog knows about the economic crisis. There’s still some debate as to whether or not it’s just a short slump or a long term depression to rival the Great one in the thirties (can I call it the great one?).

And yes, I am writing about this because, yesterday, my SO got laid off AND I was informed that, after February, the best I can hope for is 13 hours a week (plus a shift or two around the various chocolate laden holidays). I may be just a little bit on the bitter and cynical side.

I can sum this post up in one sentence. With your dwindling dollars, who are you voting for?

Apparently Wal*Mart’s sales are through the roof. So, I guess everyone’s voting for Wal*Mart.

Now, I really do believe that this whole mess is tied in with peak oil. And the choices are really clear to me.

Choice 1: Do not, unless under absolute diress, make any sacrifices whatsoever. Keep consuming and keeping up with the Joneses and whatever else you’re doing right now. Fund it through a credit card, mortgage, the rights to your first born child, or whatever else necessary, but heaven forbid you have to make your coffee at home. I think the people who choose this category are dwindling because the credit card is maxed, the house got foreclosed and the first born child has already been sold. They’re out of options and have to deal with the harsh, sudden reality that their needs need to take precedence over their wants.

Choice 2: Same as above, but fund it through cheaper alternatives rather than credit cards. Wal*Mart, and what have you. Big name bargain places. Let’s give Wal*Mart our souls. The only problem with this option is that it leaves nothing for that first born of yours to use to … well… live at all. Wants shipped in from wherever they can be made cheapest, unfortunately, does not bode well for the future. Watch the story of stuff. Cheaper options that don’t rape the planet, like second hand stores and libraries, do not fall into this category. I know there are some people who feel they have no choice, but look around. Dig deeper. There are choices. Don’t buy anything you can borrow, don’t buy anything new that you can get second hand and don’t buy anything you don’t need.  Start with that and see how hopeless it seems afterwards. If it still seems hopeless, reach out for help. There’s a myriad of support systems out there. Remember, most of Wal*Mart’s (and Zeller’s) employees are already on that support.

Choice 3: Make sacrifices. Give up everything that can be given up. Do it slowly if you still have some time. Make a change, let it sit until it becomes just what you do. Make another. Give up the dryer, give up the second car, give up chocolate, whatever it takes. At whichever step you’re at. Simplify your life. Also, remember not to give up everything fun. Just find cheaper alternatives that give you just as much joy.

And with the dollars left over, vote for the future you want to see. And yes, I was promised flying cars and shopping trips on Mars too. Deal with it. Put the sci fi away (temporarily) and live with the reality that our future is going back to a simpler time. Think of someone younger than yourself, who you care about. Yes, they might need to give up the personal computer, but wouldn’t it be nice if they could still have access to health care and a public school system? Clean water? Food?

So, how, exactly, is buying a Big Mac contributing to the futures ability to eat? It’s not. However, giving up the dryer and using the money you save to first pay for the drying rack/clothes line/extra hangers in your closet (or, hey, get the hangers for free by selling all those clothes you haven’t worn in a year!) and then to buy one meal a week from a local source. Borrow a book from the library and put the money saved into a vegetable garden. Give up the car and put the insurance money into a heavy duty water filter. Use the money you save on gas for transit fare.

It’s time for anyone who can make some wiggle room to remember that every dollar you put into the conventional economy harms someone, somewhere.

My favourite definition of sustainable is “actions which do not inhibit future generation’s ability to meet their basic needs.” Isn’t it time we all did something towards enabling today’s children’s ability to live?

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Food Storage

So Sharon Astyk over at Casaubon’s Book has been posting a lot about food storage lately.

I wanted to have a summary of what I have stored at this time (and maybe, another at the end of the month to see how much I ate out of storage this month…)

Couple of things to remember:

~I’m a “starving” student, and while I have more money than most students, I’m still kinda broke. (I suppose I could say I’m a “hungry” student instead.)

~This month shall be rather tight. My SO isn’t making too much, and my hours at work got cut (oh the joys of post Consumermas retail). Fortunately he’s got a new job lined up, and we have Valentine’s day to boost sales come February – belt tightening is temporary.

~I experience anaphylaxia when I eat rice (any kind)

~Everything (‘cept the soup) is estimated to the best of my abilities

In our pantry:

~6kg of flour (13.2lbs)

~4kg of quick oats (8.8lbs)

~1.9kg of pasta (4.2lbs)

~2L of canola oil (0.5 gallons)

~1.5kg Margarine (3.3lbs)

~1lb dried Kidney beans

~1lb dried Mung beans

~1lb green Lentils

~0.5lbs Red Quinoa

~1kg Honey (2.2lbs)

~5kg White Sugar (11lbs)

~1.5kg Brown Sugar (3.3lbs)

~0.2L Vanilla Extract (0.05 gallons)

~0.5kg Baking Soda (1.1lbs)

~0.2kg Baking Powder (0.4lbs)

~11x284ml cans of creamy soup

~Some Pancake mix

~100 bags of tea (mostly white, some green, some black, few decaf/herbal)

~Various spices

I have a long way to go for a years worth according to about.com’s calculator. But as long as I go the right way (more added than eaten) I guess that counts for something.

Have you made an inventory of your storage?

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Dumb article in NYT

Article is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/05/business/05oil1.html?pagewanted=2&_r=3

I know. Who does she think she is, taking on a New York Times article?!
This… article just seems so… flawed to me. Let’s read through it together, shall we? (Only the parts I’m commenting on have been pasted here, you really should read the whole article to ensure I’m not taking anything out of context.)

…higher oil prices have made it economical for companies to go after reserves that are harder to reach.

And later

Many oil executives say that these so-called peak-oil theorists fail to take into account the way that sophisticated technology, combined with higher prices that make searches for new oil more affordable, are opening up opportunities to develop supplies.

Ok. Let’s review what “peak oil” means. It means the running out of oil which is cheap. Or, it means that the oil prices have risen. Wait. Wasn’t this article trying to prove that peak oil didn’t exist? (I certainly stumbled across it from someone trying to use it that way ) And right here they’re stating that this magical new technology is only useful when oil prices are as high as they are!

Oil companies say they can provide enough supplies — which might eventually lead to lower oil and gasoline prices — but that they see few alternatives to fossil fuels.

Y’know, I can make enough widgets to meet supply. Honest. And, there isn’t anything that will replace my widgets. No siree bob!

Of course the oil companies aren’t going to admit to alternatives! C’mon, that’d be just stupid! Businesses don’t tend to hand consumers over to their competition willingly. And if the oil companies went, “oh, yes, solar panels attached to the roof of a car would work even better than fueling up with gasoline,” that’s exactly what they’d be doing. (Disclaimer: I have no idea how well solar panels attached to the top of a car would work. I’ve never tried it and never seen research on it. This example was for concrete purposes only.)

Oil companies are returning to old or mature fields partly because there are few virgin places left to explore, and, of those, few are open to investors.

Rough translation: Oil companies are desperate to find more oil and since they’re out of new land to drill in, they must find a way to get more oil out of their old fields.

Some forecasters, studying data on how much oil is used each year and how much is still believed to be in the ground, have argued that at some point by 2010, global oil production will peak — if it has not already — and begin to fall. That drop would usher in an uncertain era of shortages, price spikes and economic decline.

… Yes.

Two [out of three barrels of oil] usually are left behind, either because they are too hard to pump out or because it would be too expensive to do so. Going after these neglected resources, energy experts say, represents a tremendous opportunity.

To me, this screams, “we’re so desperate for oil that we’re going back to the stuff that we previously said wasn’t worth getting.” It’s like waiting until the last minute to buy a prom dress. And going to every store in town, only to return to the first store and buy the ugly, over price dress, since all of the other stores are right sold out. Sure, it’s better than nothing, but you never would have taken it if there had been other options. Why are the oil companies going back to the oil they’ve already said is “too expensive” to get? Is all the other oil gone?

Each well produces about 10 barrels a day at a cost of $16 each. That compares with production costs of only $1 or $2 a barrel in the Persian Gulf, home to the world’s lowest-cost producers.

Now, I’m not sure I understand this part. Do the entire ten barrels cost $16? As saying it is comparable to $1 or $2 a barrel implies. (Ten barrels for $16 would be $1.60 per barrel) or is it right when it said that each barrel costs $16? In which case, there’s no comparison: This new technology costs eight times (we’ll be generous) the amount the cheapest oil costs. Again, peak oil is about oil becoming more expensive than the economy can handle. Upping the costs by eight times is supposed to keep the prices down (therefore avoiding peak oil)… how, exactly?

But as these light sources are depleted, a growing share of the world’s oil reserves are made out of heavier oil. … [heavy oil] can be turned into liquid fuel by enhanced recovery methods like steam-flooding.

So, we’re out of the light stuff that’s cheap to extract and are left with the heavy, expensive-to-extract stuff? Or did I misunderstand something?

After years of underinvestment, oil companies are now in a global race to increase supplies to catch the growth of consumption.

Desperate to produce enough to match the demand.

Back in California, the Kern River field itself seems little changed from what it must have looked like 100 years ago. The same dusty hills are now littered with a forest of wells, with gleaming pipes running along dusty roads. … Each year, the company drills some 850 new wells there.

So, 850 new oil wells every year doesn’t change the scenery? What kinda tripe is this?!

“Yes, there are finite resources in the ground, but you never get to that point,” Jeff Hatlen, an engineer with Chevron, said on a recent tour of the field.

Someone needs to go back to elementary school, and do the exercise where they take buttons out of a cup to learn subtraction. Basic truth: if something is finite, and you’re taking some of it away/using some of it, you will run out. Unless of course, he meant that the company will never be able to get all of the oil out of the ground. Maybe he’s right. But they will still reach a point where they cannot get anymore oil out of the ground. Or where the consumers cannot afford to pay the price to have some new miracle technology (that can only be used after a certain price threshold) extract more oil.

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“Oil fields are voluntarily reducing their outputs. Since they say it’s voluntary they must be telling the truth! And since they’re cutting back the supply, of course the price will rise.”


Sure. “Voluntarily.” I have no solid evidence to back up my claims… but I will tell you this: If I was making widgets and I could sell as many as I made, no matter what, I wouldn’t be “voluntarily” making less when they hit $108 a barrel. But I would be calling a drop in my ability to meet the widget demands “voluntarily” if saying, “oh crap! I can’t make enough widgets!” would send the world into a panic. On the other hand, if “voluntarily” lowering my widget production caused the prices to increase enough that I would make a larger profit despite the lower volume sold, I could see myself doing so.


Mostly, I’m just annoyed that people accept this crap without any question whatsoever. Please, for the love of all that is good, when you’re reading or hearing something important take a minute to ask yourself “does this make sense?” and “could these people have a bias?” (by the way, the answer to that is always YES). “Might they be trying to sell something?” is a good one too. “Why would they want me to believe this, what would they gain?” It’s called critical thinking. It’s married to common sense. They’re semi-retired because no one bothers to make them work anymore. They should be immortal, so make them get off their lazy behinds and earn a living!



In ten/twenty/fifty years everything will be powered by wind/solar/geothermal/nuclear/hydro and oil will be a thing of the past.



The problem with this assumption is that wind/solar/geothermal/nuclear/hydro power currently use oil at some point in time in their electricity production. Sometimes in the making of the parts and sometimes just in the transportation of the parts. And these parts only last X years, so even if we do build up our renewable energy sources, what will happen in X years when it all starts breaking down? Sharon explains this much better right here.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m all for some miracle solution that involves lots of windmills and solar panels; I just don’t see how it could happen. Which doesn’t mean a lot… We’ve gone over how I’m just a 22 year old college girl — in Accounting (not Environmental studies) — yes? I’m not an expert!



I’ll talk about various biofuels separately, since I think they deserve their own rant.


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“Why will peak oil affect me?” Or “I’ll just drive less!” or some variant thereof.


The short answer to these is the fact that oil is either in everything or used to produce and transport everything. Everything. Driving won’t be the only thing affected by a hike in gas prices. Like I said in part one, we live in a world totally addicted to this stuff!


Take food. Everything that doesn’t come from your own backyard is shipped to you using gasoline. Also, farms use machinery, which run on gasoline (at least in developed countries). And conventional fertilizers, herbicides (weed killers), fungicides (fungus killers) and pesticides (buggy killers) are made using oil. The rising food prices and the threat of peak oil are not separate. The food prices feed off of the rise of gas prices. There are other factors (is the dwindling space to grow food caused by biofuels really unrelated to peak oil? And then there’s overpopulation, problems with climate change, eroding soil, etc.), but the price of gas is probably one of the biggest influences on food prices.


And then there’s consumer products. Because even if that lovely shirt or those fancy power tools, and that apple, weren’t shipped to the store, the companies that sell them still need to pay their employees (who need raises because their bills are going up), light and heat their stores, buy plastic bags for customers to tote their finds home in… and who am I kidding? Of course that great find at Old Navy or Rona was shipped! And probably from across the ocean too. So the truck (airplane, boat, whatever) company needs more money to fuel their trucks (airplanes, boats, whatever) and the utility bills, for everyone involved, have skyrocketed. Meanwhile, minimum wage continues to rise. And then the company that supplies the plastic bags decides that they need to charge more for a bundle… what happens to the jeans you were about to buy? Maybe they go up five dollars, maybe ten. Maybe they became more expensive six months ago, and they’re going to cost more tomorrow. And I’m not talking just regular inflation, but a problem more pronounced as everything that uses oil gets more expensive in pace with oil. Of course prices are going to rise slowly as the cost of living goes up. But what happens when it spirals out of control and the employees wages just can’t keep up? When the cost of everything doubles (when oil hits $100 a barrel from $50, or $200 compared to now) without a single increase in pay because the increase in consumer cost comes from the utility and shipping bills?


Utilities will also continue to go up. Heating is, here in Canada at least, generally done with some form of fossil fuel. Coal and natural gas are estimated to be at or near their peaks, just like oil. Similar price hikes can be expected while supplies start to dwindle, regardless of which fossil fuel is used. There has also been a start to talk of “peak water,” where supplies of drinkable water start to become undrinkable for various reasons (pollution, rising sea levels or less precipitation due to global warming, etc.). I want to go more in depth with electricity so I’ll talk about it more in my next post.


Plastic is also made with oil. If you’re curious about how widespread plastic is, I recommend Envirowoman’s blog where she tries to eliminate plastic from her life. Compostable plastic bags are corn based, but society’s excessive corn usage is a whole different rant (and some “biodegradable” plastic bags are even worse for the environment. Many of these bags are made by joining pieces of regular plastic together with something that decomposes when exposed to sunlight and air. They “biodegrade” by breaking apart into itty bitty pieces of plastic that easily float away on a breeze). Plastic is also in less obvious places like music (CDs have a layer of plastic on them); electronics; food storage, transportation and cooking containers (the insides of pop cans and teflon come to mind) and some fabrics (polyester, nylon). This doesn’t include all of the obvious plastic that’s in our lives. Next time you goto the store, notice the containers you’re buying stuff in, if there’s plastic connecting the price tags, etc. Plastic has become one of the most prevalent packaging materials. And quite a bit of it is intended to be thrown out almost immediately.


Replacing driving with another transportation method is a great start, but it won’t solve all of the other problems peak oil will cause to pop up.


More naysayer phrases coming in the next post!

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This will be a multiple post entry because my communications textbook keeps telling me to KISS (though they claim it stands for “keep it short and simple.” I guess they don’t want to offend anyone by calling them stupid. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if this particular textbook called me an idiot… I write “better” when I’m allowed to bend, or completely shatter, the rules of grammar.)


What is peak oil?


I’m going to start by stating a few very simple facts and apologizing in case I come off as condescending. I’m sorry if I come off as condescending.

Oil is a finite resource. That means that there’s only a certain amount of it and once that’s used, it’s gone. We could make more oil but it would take waaaaaaaay too long, so for simplicity’s sake we will say that oil is entirely irreplaceable (since we do not know how to make more before our current resources run out) and that there is only a fixed amount left.

We, as a planet, use oil at an incredible rate. It’s something along the lines of 86 million barrels a day.

If we use something and we only have a certain amount it will run out. I don’t care if you have a thousand apples, if you eat one apple a day and never get new apples, you will run out of apples (three years down the road. This ignores the fact that apples decay, but it’s a concrete example).

So, if we add all three together we get that we only have so much oil left, and we are rapidly using it. Which means that eventually oil will run out.
Simple, yes?


But, for all the naysayers who still claim that we have plenty of oil left, peak oil doesn’t really have anything to do with oil “running out.” It has to do with cheap oil running out. So if the price continues to rise faster than the economy can keep up with, we’re all in a lot of trouble. It doesn’t matter how many barrels of oil are still left in the ground when we hit that price threshold; Our oil dependent lifestyle can only take so much, beyond regular inflation, before things start to fall apart. Our daily lives depend on oil to such an extent that when oil prices rise drastically everything else skyrockets too. And when the rate of increase is beyond what regular inflation can handle, the economy starts to fall apart. I think one of the scariest examples is America’s expanding “heat or eat” crisis, where more and more families need to decide between food and heat. Specifically, when a family can only afford to turn the heat up enough to keep the pipes from freezing and since they’ve turned the heat on they cannot afford to feed their children adequately.

I’ve heard estimates that the tipping point will be when gas hits 4 or 5 dollars a gallon in the US. I don’t know if that will actually be the real point. I don’t think anyone will know when that point was until fifty years later. Rest assured that it is coming… unless we’ve missed it already.


I’m going to continue this post (tomorrow?) with things I’ve heard people claim to “prove” peak oil won’t affect them, and my thoughts.

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